KUALA LUMPUR – The rally was a show of strength by Najib’s opponents but looked unlikely to shake his hold on power, which has weakened amid allegations that around $700 million in public money was deposited into bank accounts in his name. The scandal over a state development fund Najib set up in 2009 has drawn the attention of law enforcement agencies from around the world. The Justice Department alleged in July that “an international conspiracy” helped siphon $3.5 billion from the fund, known as 1MDB. Some of the money is alleged to have been used to set up a Hollywood production company led by Najib’s stepson that made, among other films, “The Wolf of Wall Street” – a story of financial corruption. Najib, who was in Peru on an official visit, has said he never took money “for personal gain” and called the deposits a donation from Saudi Arabia that he mostly repaid. The corruption scandal has gripped a country that has otherwise been a bulwark of political stability in Southeast Asia, long embraced by the West for its moderate brand of Islam. Stung by the criticism, Najib has recently played up Malaysia’s growing ties with China and castigated Western powers for interfering in former colonies. In recent months, as calls for his resignation have grown louder, several leading opposition politicians have been charged or jailed on a variety of offenses including sedition and breaches of communications laws. Among those facing prison was Rafizi Ramli, an opposition parliamentarian who joined the demonstration, saying Najib “will try to cling to power because [otherwise] he will go to jail.”
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak looks secure in office, for now, despite massive weekend street protests calling for his removal. The prime minister, under pressure since July over $700 million deposited in bank accounts in his name prior to national elections two years ago, described the protests as immature and “not the proper channel to voice opinions in a democratic country.” However as Najib and government colleagues joined national day celebrations at Kuala Lumpur’s Merdeka Square, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, Najib’s chief critic, continued a series of broadsides against the incumbent. “He has effectively removed all the laws and undermined the legal system,” Mahathir told the Nikkei Asian Review, discussing Najib’s efforts to retain office despite the allegations of financial impropriety.
KUALA LUMPUR — Tens of thousands of yellow-clad Malaysian protestors marched through Kuala Lumpur on Saturday to demand the resignation of scandal-mired Prime Minister Najib Razak. Joining the demonstrators at Malaysia’s national mosque, Lim Kit Siang of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) told the Nikkei Asian Review that “we want to save Malaysia from political and economic crisis, where the country will end up as a failed state with no rule of law.” For Najib, the protests, which are scheduled to continue until Aug. 30, come after possibly the most exacting few weeks of his political career. In the weeks since the Wall Street Journal in July carried allegations that almost $700m had been deposited to bank accounts in his name — seemingly money diverted from companies linked to troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) — Najib has faced mounting criticism and calls for his resignation.
YANGON – Ahead of what reform campaigners believe will be Malaysia’s “dirtiest ever elections,” the long-ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has engineered something of a clean-up. In recent months, it has reformed some old and oft-derided laws, such as allowing indefinite detention without trial and forcing local newspapers to apply each year for a publication permit, a stipulation that encouraged self-censorship. UMNO and its allies have governed Malaysia consecutively since independence from colonial rule, a longevity not usually associated with electoral democracies. UMNO and its Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition survived the last election in 2008, though ceded its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time and lost five out of 13 federal states to the opposition, a coalition of three parties led by controversial former UMNO firebrand Anwar Ibrahim that includes the Islamic party PAS and the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP).
KUALA LUMPUR – On Saturday, tens of thousands of yellow and green-clad protestors seeking changes to Malaysia’s electoral system were driven back from the city’s Independence Square by volleys of water-cannon and teargas fired after protestors pushed through barricades sealing-off the plaza. Almost 400 demonstrators were subsequently arrested by police, including some seen being dragged away holding bloodied faces and bruised limbs.
Moments after Malaysia’s parliamentary opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim addressed the crowd at the front line, several protestors close to the police barricade suddenly shouted “back, back,” before pushing through the police lines around the Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square, the iconic downtown location where the protestors sought to hold their sit-down demonstration seeking changes to how Malaysia holds elections.
BANGKOK – Recently-released United States diplomatic cables from 2008-2010 shed light on Malaysia’s political scene in the aftermath of a controversial crackdown on a recent opposition-backed electoral reform demonstration in Kuala Lumpur where over 1,600 people were arrested, including opposition politicians. On July 9, Malaysia’s police fired teargas and water-cannon at thousands of protesters who defied a ban on the rally, which was organized by Bersih 2.0, a coalition of non-governmental organizations that says it wants changes to how Malaysia stages elections, including the mandatory use of indelible ink to prevent voters from casting multiple ballots. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government was widely criticized for its heavy-handed and disproportionate response to what was a peaceful demonstration by civil society groups. Putrajaya alleged that the protest was a front for the ambitions of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who says he was injured during the crackdown and faces the next stage of an unrelated and controversial sodomy trial on August 8. Hints as to why the government reacted as it did are contained in an August 2008 assessment by US ambassador James Keith, who wrote: “The ruling party wants to stay in power indefinitely, and that means Anwar and the multi-racial opposition front he is leading must fail. At least so far, there is scant evidence of a more thoughtful and forward-looking analysis within UMNO [United Malays National Organization]. In fact, the ruling party could find some common ground with the opposition if it were willing to countenance gradual development of a two-party system of checks and balances.”